Looking at how to visit Niagara Falls from Downtown Toronto? The simple answer would be to take a tour. That’s exactly what I did during my travels in Canada, so I’m here to give you the inside scoop. I was desperate to see the notorious waterfall but transport was complicated, timings were limited and, financially, I was looking at prices which would force me to eat toast for the remaining week. However, during the manic search for a trip to Niagara Falls, I stumbled across a ten-hour package on TripAdvisor. The hundreds of flawless reviews looked too good to be true so, naturally, I became intrigued. If you’re in a similar position and have booked a group tour for the first time, I’ll explain what it’s really like.
Before we start, I’d like to note that NO part of this post is sponsored. This is just my experience to help out travellers considering a tour to Niagara Falls.
Which Niagara Falls Tour Did You Take?
I’ll link the exact tour I booked here.
How Much Did The Tour Cost?
At time of booking in late April, I paid £56.
Where Was The Meeting Point?
Ripley’s Aquarium Of Canada, Toronto.
How Many People Went On The Tour?
There were around 15 people, in addition to the tour guide.
What Should You Bring?
You don’t need any paperwork as such, just your booking confirmation. You’re also given unlimited water so don’t worry about drinks. Food isn’t included, so bring your wallet but I’m sure you’d have that anyway.
As expected, you get pretty wet from the waterfall mist but even more so when raining. As a minimum, take an umbrella.
What About Tips?
While you won’t be forced to leave a tip, most people did. TripAdvisor suggests between 10-20 percent, as a rough guide. However, by the end of the day, you’ll probably want to tip your tour guide as they’re genuinely the glue behind the experience.
The Group Tour Experience + What’s Included
An email confirmation gave the first clue. Meet outside Ripley’s Aquarium at 8 am, near the coach bays. Now for someone who had never been to Toronto before, this felt slightly vague. How would I know which coach is the one I needed? What does the tour guide look like? These types of questions forced me to arrive early. A few minutes later, I saw a couple anxiously looking at their phones. Something about them made me think they would be the first tour buddies I’d meet. I mean, who else is going to be standing outside Ripley’s Aquarium at 8 am on a rainy Wednesday? Sure enough, I was right. From then, another individual joined, followed by another, until a small group formed.
Just before 8, a small mini van/school bus pulls up. Transport secured. The group hurried over to the bus, almost as if it would leave without any passengers. From what I gathered, the majority were from the United Kingdom but I also spotted a handful of locals. Here I was introduced to the tour guide, Michael. The only thing missing, in my opinion, were introductions amongst the group. I’d be spending the entire day with these people, after all. The tour kicked off with Michael explaining our itinerary for around 15 minutes, which in hindsight really bought time for the two missing travellers who arrived 10 minutes later…
The 90-minute journey was pleasant, with Michael’s commentary on the Canadian lifestyle being a specific highlight. During this time, the group benefitted from a range of facts. Did you know Lacrosse is Canada’s national summer sport? I didn’t! Or that most locals don’t pronounce the second T in Toronto? Again, I had no idea. Michael also gave us insight into things only an expert would know, such as the additional illegal tax for tourists in Niagara Falls. He defensively told us to ask for the manager if any store ever tried to slap on this sneaky charge. At this point, I felt incredibly relaxed. You’ve got the company of the group, the knowledge of the tour guide and the luxury of being directly transported to the waterfall front.
The group was given 3 hours to independently explore Niagara Falls. There are no words to describe how sensational it felt to see everything for the first time. Is it possible to get star-struck by a landmark? I feel like I did. Whilst it was cloudy when I visited, I could still see the definition of the waves and the deadly drop into the rapids. I could also see across to the United States, the New York side of Niagara Falls. Once I stopped trying to shield myself from the rain, and embraced the fact I was already soaked, I set off for a 20-minute walk towards ‘Clifton Hill’. A suggestion offered by our tour guide. Clifton Hill reminded me of a mini Las Vegas, full of tacky attractions but something about the place screamed ‘charming’. I loved every second of it.
One particularly nice touch was a maple syrup tasting session at one of the nearby souvenir stores. It was here I realised many Canadians would likely disapprove of my statement that the softest form was my favourite. It’s the less desirable version, apparently. Oops. However, this wasn’t the only detour as the afternoon was filled with smaller gems, such as ‘The Floral Clock’, before stopping at the dainty town of ‘Niagara On The Lake’. The route could certainly be called scenic, with all the multi-million dollar homes displayed along the way in full glory. I also had a sneak peek inside ‘The Living Water Wayside Chapel’, which only fits 6 adults at a time. It was legit tiny. I didn’t take any pics inside, as I’ve always felt it’s disrespectful to take photos in places of worship, but later documentation of ‘Niagara On The Lake’ meant my camera went to work. If I could describe the town in a word, I’d go with ‘independent’. So much so, the local Starbucks doesn’t even feature its usual loud logo. You’d easily mistake the chain for an ordinary house. Very blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. Although, I probably could’ve done with caffeine for what happened next…
You know in movies when people are late to the tour meeting point and the bus goes without them? I witnessed that in real-time, as the couple from morning fell into this trap. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but it was truly one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen. In what feels like the most bizarre situation, the whole van sets off through the town trying to locate the two individuals before Michael circles back to the meeting point. There they were, 10 minutes late. Whilst I’m sure tour guides are prepared for this, I’m curious what would’ve happened if they didn’t show up for a significant period? That’s probably the only responsibility of the day, having to be alert with timings. I’d really suggest setting an alarm on your phone to be on the safe side.
Virtually all passengers slept the entire journey back to Ripley’s Aquarium, almost like a reward following hours of intense sightseeing. This was my undisturbed time to reflect on the day, in which I could only focus on the positives of the experience. Sure, keeping to a schedule might be challenging for someone with poor time-management and some pit stops could’ve been skipped, like the hydroelectric power station, but the day went smoothly. At least for me anyway. Not having to worry about unreliable public transport or map navigation is one thing, but it was the insight from an expert which really turned the day into a core memory. Yes, with a bit of research I probably could’ve discovered the surrounding areas of the Falls but who wants that responsibility when you’re on vacation? Not me.
For more on my time in Toronto, including a complete guide, I’ll point you towards my Toronto travel diary.
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Until then, see you in the next post.